In accordance with the general principles of constitutional and international law, court judgments and comparable sovereign acts only have direct legal effect within the territory of the state in which they were issued. Each state is free to determine whether and, if so, under what conditions it recognizes foreign acts of sovereignty, provided it is not bound by state treaties.
The dissolution of a marriage is thus initially only valid in the state in which it was dissolved. Under German law, a marriage divorced abroad continues to be viewed as still in existence i.e. the spouses continue to be listed as married in the German civil status records or registers (a „limping marriage“). Remarriage in Germany would therefore not be possible until the divorce has been recognized, as it would be bigamous.
Only once the foreign decision has been recognized by the state department of justice, the marriage can be considered as truly dissolved. If none of the previous spouses has a place of residence in Germany, and no new marriage is to be entered into in Germany, the Senate Department for Justice in Berlin will be responsible for processing the divorce recognition.
When is a recognition of a divorce decree not required?
Only in exceptional cases, formal recognition of foreign judgements in matrimonial matters is not required, for example, divorce judgments from Member States of the European Union (with the exception of Denmark), if the divorce proceedings were initiated after March 1, 2001 or after the member state joined at a later date. In this case, you can instead apply for a certificate in accordance with Article 39 of Regulation (EC) No. 2201/2003 of November 27, 2003, which you can obtain from the court where you were divorced.
Divorce recognition is also not necessary if both spouses at the time of the decision exclusively belonged to the country whose court or authority made the decision (so-called home country decision). This means that you must have your foreign divorce recognized if you were a dual national at the time of the divorce.
Which documents do I have to complete?
You can find the application and helpful information on the recognition procedure and the documents to be attached, on the website of the Senate Department for Justice in Berlin:
Please note that the foreign divorce decree must be submitted as a complete copy or as a certified copy with a note of legal force („certificate of no appeal“), stating the facts and reasons for the decision. The court can issue you with copies. You can have the copy certified at the German embassy. The other required documents do not have to be certified.
The Citizens' Service of the Federal Foreign Office also answers questions on the subject of „divorce with a foreign connection“ on its website: